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Farmers' protest in Spain highlights rural concerns

Spain Rural Protest
Posted at 11:15 AM, Jan 23, 2022

MADRID (AP) -- Farmers, cattle-breeders, hunters and opposition supporters descended Sunday on the Spanish capital of Madrid to protest environmental and economic policies by Spain's left-of-center government that they say are hurting rural communities.

Sunday's protest was organized by Alma Rural 2021, a platform representing over 500 rural organizations from all corners of Spain. Members of opposition parties, ranging from centrists to far-right supporters, also attended.

The demonstration came as Spanish politicians are campaigning before an early election in Castilla-Leon, a vast region northeast of Madrid where proposals against depopulation and agricultural policies are taking center stage.

Carlos Bueno, head of Alma Rural 2021, said the protest aimed to highlight rural concerns amid what he called "ideological" attacks from the government. Concerns ranged from regulating prices for agricultural products to protections for those who breed cattle for bullfights and more subsidies for rural industries.

Tractors and bull carts headed the march along a Madrid thoroughfare, with protesters walking from the gates of the Ecology Transition Ministry -- the previous Environment Ministry -- to the Agriculture Ministry. Among the many banners held by protesters, one read: "Farmers speak. Who's listening?"

Spain's Ecological Transition Ministry said the country's budget for 2022 includes 4.2 billion euros ($4.7 billion) to fight the depopulation of rural areas. Spain's rural world "doesn't need populist slogans but political involvement and resource to solve historical problems," it said in a statement.

A spat over industrial livestock farming has dominated headlines for the past month since Consumer Minister Alberto Garzon, a member of the far-left junior partner of the Socialist-led administration, criticized big cattle operations for damaging the environment and producing poor quality food for export.

His remarks caused a political storm, created divisions within the ruling coalition and led to calls by right-wing opposition parties for Garzon to resign.